In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times

I heard some news yesterday (October 31, 2018) that, depending on which side you’re on, was either very good news or very bad news. For me and many other Christians around the world, it was, indeed, some very good news. In fact, it was a miracle given the circumstances regarding the case. After spending 9 1/2 years in a Pakistani prison–most of that time since 2010 spent in solitary confinement on death row on a charge of blasphemy, a Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi, also known as Aasiya Noreen–age 58, wife and mother of five, was set free from prison by a three-judge-panel on the Pakistani Supreme Court. The appeal process was first started in 2014 (see under Appeals section), and the final appeal was made on October 8, 2018 (see under Supreme Court acquittal section). It was after this last and final appeal that the three judges decided the final outcome of her case yesterday (10-31-18), and they set her free.

Here is a synopsis of Asia Bibi’s situation as stated in an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Supreme Court Clears Catholic Woman of Blasphemy Charges,” by Scott Slayton, lead pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church, blogger at One Degree or Another on Patheos.com, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com:

[Asia] Bibi faced the death penalty for a 2009 incident in which Bibi, a Catholic, was accused of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad. Bibi worked as a berry harvester and was asked to retrieve water from a well. CNN reported that her Muslim co-workers refused to drink from the bucket because she is a Christian and her touching the bucket made it unclean. This led to an argument in which she allegedly blasphemed Muhammad and someone reported her to a Muslim cleric (Quote source and article at this link).

Since the ruling yesterday, many articles worldwide have been published regarding her case including Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Supreme Court ‘historic’ ruling,” b

In other quarters, the news has caused an uproar. According to an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has death penalty conviction overturned,” by 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues.

The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”
She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.
Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik (TLP) had previously vowed to take to the streets if Asia Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced.

Within hours, the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos. Demonstrators blocked a motorway in Lahore and a road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been closed off. Angry workers from the TLP have also staged sit-ins and chanted slogans against Pakistan officials and judges.

In response, police officials invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prevents the gathering of more than four people. (Quote source and article at this link.)

Most of the years Asia Bibi spent in prison were spent in solitary confinement since a death sentence was given to her in 2010. Story after story has been printed over these years regarding her plight including one story published on October 31, 2014, titled Asia Bibi losing hope on death row: family,” and another story published two years later on December 22, 2016, titled, Asia Bibi: Christmas in a prison cell.”

I first became aware of Asia Bibi’s story back in 2010. There are many, many Christians around the world going through persecution but for some reason I could never get her particular story off of my mind. Drastic forms of persecution such as she has encountered are not uncommon around the globe, even though here in America we don’t see that kind of overt persecution taking place; yet covert persecution is not uncommon here–it is just very well disguised. It can take the form of homelessness, job loss, chronic unemployment and financial difficulties; unexplained health or mental health issues and opioid addiction, accidental deaths, workplace bullying and bullying kids in schools, and any number of other ways made to look like “normal” occurrences taking place. After all, we cannot overtly kill people we disagree with in America as it’s against the law, but those who are so inclined do have their ways of dealing with people they disagree with by destroying their lives in covert ways.

In an August 22, 2016, article published in ChristianityToday.com titled, Are American Christians Really ‘Persecuted’? by K. A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate who writes and speaks on Human Rights, Religious Freedom and the Persecuted Church, she states:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment….American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 13, 2016, titled Are Christians Persecuted in America? by Gregory C. Cochran, Ph.D., a pastor, author, college professor and Director of the Bachelor of Applied Theology program at California Baptist University, he begins his article by acknowledging K. A. Ellis’s article (see above) and he goes on to state:

Ellis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously U.S. Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10, ESV)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.” (Quote source here.)

Cochran also posted an article yesterday (10-31-18) on Asia Bibi titled, Asia Bibi and Why She Matters.” In his article he sums up the main points of what happened to her and her family from the time she ended up in prison in June 2009. At the end is a telling and ongoing story that goes beyond her release from prison yesterday in the last two paragraphs of his article:

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs. (Quote source here.)

After nine and a half years in prison, Asia Bibi is finally free, but there is still a world-at-large she and her family must navigate. Jesus said to his disciples (and he says to us who believe in him today), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (see John 16:25-33; this is verse 33).

In this world those who follow after Jesus Christ will have tribulation. Jesus said so and that’s a given, not an option. The story of Asia Bibi sunk into my soul years ago, and over the years I have prayed with ongoing passion for her release from prison as have thousands of others who were aware of her story. Her prison was a physical prison cell isolated from others. Here in America, at least at this point in time, our prisons look a lot different, and often we do not recognize them for what they are until something comes along that turns our world upside down.

Asia Bibi ended up in prison cell for all those years because a coworker lied about her, and a lot of others wanted to keep her down and in prison for the sole reason that she was a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. In America the type of persecution that happened to her is done here through workplace bullying by coworkers that often leads to losing one’s job and leading to chronic unemployment, a ruined reputation, financial difficulties, housing issues, and homelessness. And that’s just one side of the persecution taking place right here in America on a regular basis.

As Cochran stated above, “persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.”

This is a sobering blog post but it needs to be sobering. I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above–In the world you will have tribulation….

But take heart . . .

I have overcome . . .

The world . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here